Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Beauty, Outlaw of the Arts"


I, Ferrywoman, battled snow devils and bursts of snow to rescue child no. 3 from camp near Greenwich; when I arrived, my incredibly skinny boy of 14 was perched on the very heights of the ridiculous, sporting a plush bathrobe over his jeans and large pink and white rabbit ears worn over an orange Cooperstown High School knit cap. Evidently there had been an Easter egg hunt in the snow, and he had worn the ears ever since.

On the way, I whipped into Old Saratoga Books in Schuylerville and grabbed a few--one for the boy, and three for me--Reynolds Price's The Collected Poems (you know you're gone when they collect you), a marvelous-looking book  called Leaves in Myth, Magic, and Medicine (the first book by Beaufort's  Alice Thoms Vitale, then 86), and a quirky choice of something called The Poetry Circus, a 1967 attack on modernist poetry that aroused my curiosity. How could I resist chapters called "The Plodding Muse," "Beauty, Outlaw of the Arts," "The Music of the Buzz Saw," "How to Write a Modernist Poem," "Strutters, Swaggerers, and Gesticulators," etc.?  As he was born in 1896 but was opposed to almost everything Modernism stood for, I am intrigued to see what such a man had to say--while I've read plenty of Modernist work of all sorts, I don't think I've ever read anything substantial from an opponent.

The author, Stanton A. Coblentz, had an active career. By 1967 he was around 70 and had published twelve science fiction novels, eighteen volumes of poetry, five poetry anthologies, and "several" other books (the back copy goes on to mention eight others as a portion of these.) He also published Wings, a quarterly poetry journal, for almost thirty years, which shows a stalwart spirit in those days of typewriters, submissions in envelopes, and painstaking layout! He wrote for The New York Times, the Sun, and The San Francisco Chronicle, and The San Francisco Examiner.

And here I had never heard of him, a pretty big fish in the great sea of words:  a man clearly active in the culture wars and productive in three genres. It gives one pause.

* * *
Stanton Coblentz, from the introduction to The Poetry Circus:

All through my life, poetry has been for me a joy and a wonder, a pilot and an inspiration. Ever since the days of lonely adolescence, when it provided consolations and companionship, it has enriched my world with treasures beyond reckoning. But the poetry that has called to me has been a poetry of singing and ringing lines, of skylarks and a wild west wind, of lovers and midnight trysts, of mountains and stars and the towers of Camelot. It has been a poetry of all the dreams, the hopes and aspirations that make up life, all life's delights and sorrows, its searches and achievements and despairs, and its passionate reaching toward other worlds. Most of all, it has been a poetry of nobility and music, which has made life seem more meaningful and has given glimpses of universes beyond the senses and of truths beyond logic.

* * *
It would be very interesting to compare the Coblentz book of 1967 with Tom Disch's The Castle of Indolence of 1994. They have a related stance, and each writer can be quite amusing--then, too, they have so much in common, each writing poetry and science fiction and nonfiction. I notice that they use some of the same tactics--for example, turning poems into blocks of texts and examining them for any qualities in the prose that might differentiate it from prose. However, the examples Coblentz uses are drawn from the major Modernists, so that Pound, Moore, Cummings, Eliot, etc. are examined.

* * *
Marly Youmans's novel now in pre-order is A Death at the White Camellia OrphanageHer 2011 book of poems is The Throne of Psyche.

4 comments:

  1. The bunny ears for a kid who sometimes sounds so grown up and is an athlete and wrestler made me smile.
    The books look like good occupation for a snowy few days!
    It is true that there are infinitely many people writing now and as many who wrote in the past and are no longer with us. A sobering thought.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, it was definitely smiley. Nothing like a kid willing to make himself look silly.

    I shall just have to look at them for now--too much burning on the burner!

    My feeling is that all are important to making the sea of culture, whether they are remembered or not. (Actually Coblentz appears to be quite collectible, so I suppose other people know about him.)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I do have a few hours--singing later...

    Same to you!

    ReplyDelete

Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.